Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I bought Hoodwinked by Jack Cashill on the strength of a decent presentation on CSPAN's Book Notes. After a low, dishonest decade of academic and leftist fraud, who wouldn't be up for a pungent ramble through the low points of said fraud? Not me, that's for sure. Which is part of why I started into the book with great enthusiasm, and finished it in a mood of irate whimsy. I knew little of Cashill prior to the reading, but it's painfully obvious who he is, and where he's coming from.

Cashill isn't content to write up a collection of various progressive and progressive-tinged frauds, or to make a case that modern progressive culture is built in large part on falsehoods and hidden wickedness. I'm mostly on board for this sort of argument. There's something going on, clearly. But Cashill seems to have gone into the project with a pretty good idea of what was going on, and researched exactly that which would prove his case. It's ironic that he castigates Bellesiles and Kinsey for selection bias, because this entire book is an exercise in selection bias - in collecting evils which prove the case one wants to prove.

The problem possibly begins with Kinsey. Lord knows, Kinsey in particular provides Cashill enough evil to make the world go 'round. His apparent enablement of large-scale pedophilic abuse in the course of his research, if comprehensively true, puts him on a level with Mengele and the researchers in the death camps. Kinsey's apparent selection bias in his adult studies is also pretty damning, and would seem to be bad science. But Cashill wasn't selling a book about bad science, or evil practice. He was selling fraud, the deliberate and persistent sale of falsehoods in the marketplace of ideas. He doesn't make that case with Kinsey, nor does he do so with a number of his other presentations, particularly in the case of some obscure proto-fascist Darwinist named Haeckel, against whom he seems to be presenting a case of fraud-by-bad-draftsmanship.

There's plenty of unpleasant frauds in the book, and the sections on communism, Marxism, the fellow-travellers, modern postmodernism and multiculturalism (which Cashill usefully calls "zero-sum multiculturalism, or ZSM) are useful and apposite. But Cashill has an agenda beyond the castigation of the political and cultural left. He has a larger target in mind - and he blames scientific atheism.

His basic thesis is that naturalism, Darwinism, and atheism breed a contempt for the truth, a Nietzschian love for lies. Which is ironic, in that he never mentions Nietzsche in the text, if my memory and the index can be trusted. In the Darwinist chapter, he throws a lot of mud around, and nails a few targets, but surprisingly fails to tar his apparent primary target with falsehood. I suppose a case could be made that Cashill is arguing that Darwin's ideas breed falsehoods, not that Darwin himself was false, but I'm suspicious. The book felt like a massive exercise in guilt by association. There's even one passage where Cashill blames Stephen Jay Gould for material in textbooks which Gould did not write, edit, or approve. Apparently if there's anything false taught anywhere about Darwinian evolution, the great late-20th-century defender of Darwin's legacy is somehow directly to blame.

I'm not sure whether Cashill is a scientific creationist, or a intelligent design walla (although the gods of probity damn him to academic hell if he's the former), but I'm pretty sure he's somewhere on that continuum. Not that he bothers to tell you in the text - he's too busy castigating the errors of the infidel to spend any time on the errors of the faithful. And in the end, that's what he doing - waging a sort of literary war on the infidel, the pagans of scientism. And he's often right! All sorts of evils seem to be born of the abuse of science - or the modern superstitions which probably ought to be called scientism. When reason and science are clubbed over the head and their stuffed corpses mounted on the altar of an atheistic mystery cult, things will not go well.

But Cashill doesn't make that distinction, doesn't make that necessary distinction between scientists and practitioners of scientism. He's too busy throwing stones at his devil, ranting about the philosophical duality of man and God. There is perhaps a case to be made that fraud is the child of scientism. But Cashill isn't the dispassionate and careful thinker to make that case. Heaven knows, I've just proven that I'm not that thinker, either. But I'm pretty sure that "man and God" isn't the line of argument which will find the way. "Science and reason as a religion in itself" - that, there, is a better line. And an assault on the stubborn and self-deluding insistence of atheists that they don't practice religion, simply because they denounce the gods.

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